‘We live our lives through the eyes of others’

1987-5I have a big fat article in Highline today:

Still, even as we celebrate the scale and speed of this change, the rates of depression, loneliness and substance abuse in the gay community remain stuck in the same place they’ve been for decades. Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to commit suicide. We’re twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. In a survey of gay men who recently arrived in New York City, three-quarters suffered from anxiety or depression, abused drugs or alcohol or were having risky sex—or some combination of the three.

I’m not going to pretend to be objective about any of this. I’m a perpetually single gay guy who was raised in a bright blue city by PFLAG parents. I’ve never known anyone who died of AIDS, I’ve never experienced direct discrimination and I came out of the closet into a world where marriage, a picket fence and a golden retriever were not just feasible, but expected. I’ve also been in and out of therapy more times than I’ve downloaded and deleted Grindr.

I get nervous writing these stories, ones that examine a trend that I personify. I tried to include people who have it harder than me, to be skeptical of my own example. I have no idea if my own life, my own problems, are instructive to anyone else in understanding their own. But I feel lucky that so many experts let me borrow their insight to explain it.

The phenomenon I’m exploring—the epidemic of loneliness among gay menbegan as a question: Is this really a thing? After the first few interviews, it became how did this happen? Then, after about 40, it was, why don’t we talk about this more?

The best I can hope for is that this article gives us a reason to.


Filed under Essays, Random

19 responses to “‘We live our lives through the eyes of others’

  1. I read the Highline piece five times in a row now. It addressed nearly every single thing I have been feeling as a 33 year-old gay man. Thank you for taking the time to create this stunning article and for sharing it. I am sharing it with all of my friends.

  2. Resident Introvert

    Oh, don’t be self-conscious one bit about that long read. I have been studying male (in general) loneliness and alienation for years, and you’ve covered the territory in perhaps the most thought-provoking way I’ve seen in years.

    What I think you have there is a great book outline. Consider writing it.

  3. I’ve often thought that the hatred gay men get exposed to gets reflected back with a mirror that magnifies. And that hate is all too often directed at fellow gay men.

  4. Portlander

    As I sit here trying to collect my thoughts in an attempt to explain my gratitude for such an excellent article, I am finding it extremely difficult to do so.

    The internalized negative emotions explained so succinctly in the article have ruled my life for so long. I know I should be sharing your article with friends and family, but the thought of doing so has me extremely anxious for the discussions that could bring. I hope I can overcome my anxiety and share it.

    Thank you Michael.

  5. jsimpy

    Very good article. I wish I would have been able to read through similar articles when I came out at age 35. It might have explained a few things back then.

  6. What a great piece of article, thank you very much. It is so true, even in a country like Chile, where I was born and live. The challenge now is how do we help to address those issues, in order to create a true community, where no one is being rejected by their peers.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this article! It pinpointed and condensed so many of my own feelings, contextualized the effects of policy and gender norms and dating apps, and balanced humanizing stories with quality research. I can’t thank you enough.

  8. Doug

    Brilliant. This really spoke to me.

  9. Splick

    My nearly thorough act of self elimination was at age 43. Although I had a live in boyfriend, gay stress wasn’t the issue. I might not fit neatly into the thesis presented but its very interesting and I have seen it in many others. But I do fit into the cliche of only dating black men. Maybe its due to growing up in a small all white town. Now there is whole other study to do.

  10. Mike Broderick

    Sorry I have little more to offer than “me too,” to all of the excellent comments above. Truly sad indeed we cannot adequately convey all the heartache felt deep in the void of that emotional desert far to many of us have spent our very mortal lives. Fear alone can deaden efforts to change, but this article lights a beacon for those coming up behind us. I can only hope they find safe harbor and build rich lives, filled with real, totally “out” emotional lives with their loved ones.

  11. Great article!! Thank you for this personal, but not too personal, scientific, but not too scientific, medical, but not too medical, piece (you understood the gimmick ^^). I rarely read a description as accurate and still benevolent of this “gay loneliness”. 🙂

  12. Steve

    I so much appreciate the work you put into writing that piece…I saw it thanks to a lead story link on HuffPost. Growing up in Seattle I know well the ‘Seattle Chill’…and it sounds like it is no different in every other city. Now I understand a little better the ‘why’. Excellent job…thank you!

    • Resident Introvert

      I grew up in Seattle too, and I’ve had a chance to compare that freeze with other cities. Seattle is right up there with Minneapolis/St. Paul in this concept. Until I figured out how socially dysfunctional Seattle was, I thought it was “normal” for people to say “we should get together sometime,” and then never speak with you again. Saying “hello” to a stranger on a streetcorner more often than not gets you an icy stare, like you’re a schizoid Jesus Freak. Try the same thing in Chicago or Boston, and you’ll probably have a nice conversation with a stranger. Seattle is poison to gay people, and straight people too. It’s that the “friends” one has in Seattle often are like the 2,984 Fakebook “friends” that people accumulate. One of my former coworkers in Seattle has that many, and he’s constantly complaining how “lonely” he is. For sure, I believe him, too.

  13. Jason

    Thank you so much for this amazing article, which (like the Velvet Rage) has left me speechless. I am quite literally that 40 year old man asking “is this all there is.” I have been so lucky to find and stick with sobriety, and have removed myself from the apps. But I often feel the darkness approaching, so thank you for the light!

  14. jasoncox76

    I am quite literally the 40 year old man asking “is this all there is?” I have been so lucky to find support and get sober. I have also removed myself from the apps because I just wasn’t in a place where I could handle it. I have been feeling the darkness moving in, and your extraordinary article is a much needed beam of light. Thank you.

  15. Tom

    This was an absolutely outstanding piece of writing. Thank you for bringing all this to my attention.

  16. Found this around the time I was watching “When We Rise” earlier this week. Talk about being pulled in opposite directions!

    I thought this was very insightful in so many ways and thank you for taking the time to share it with us. The final two paragraphs didn’t do it for me, but that’s just me. Like most gay men, I was looking for more 🙂

    Sometimes I wonder whether all of this has something to do with not being able to connect to one another in genuinely non-judgmental and non-sexual ways.

    Or perhaps it’s just easier to become more disconnected from one another to the extent we are when we rely on social apps and/or age.

    It’s a mystery, a big one. If you ever figure it out, let us know.

  17. Leo

    What a beautifully-written, insightful, well-crafted article. From one writer to another, you’ve given voice to so many things that I’ve been thinking, feeling, and observing. Thanks so much for writing it.

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